Slots are returning to Hiawatha Horse Park

Announcement by government is welcome news for both City of Sarnia and owner of facility

Jim Henderson, left, and MPP Bob Bailey are all smiles with last week's announcement of a return of slots to Hiawatha Horse Park.

Last week’s announcement that Hiawatha Horse Park on London Line will see a return of slots six years after the former Liberal government pulled the plug has just about everyone pleased with the move.

Likely top of that list is Jim Henderson, owner of the track, who was all smiles at a Thursday announcement made by MPP Bob Bailey on behalf of the new government.

The announcement was a follow up to a campaign promise to do so.

It was 2012 when the bells and shouts of “jackpot” last sounded at the facility. Under the new agreement, about 150 slots will be operating, although timing is still to be determined.

Henderson said the announcement came together very quickly. The operator of the Gateway Casinos Point Edward will be involved.

The key message that the City of Sarnia will once again see a stream of revenue from the gaming operation is welcome news, with newly re-elected Mayor Mike Bradley saying he has been able to confirm with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation officials that a revenue-sharing agreement for host communities will apply to the new slots.

Bradley has said he was able to confirm with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation officials that a long-standing gambling revenue-sharing agreement for host communities will apply to the new slots at Hiawatha.

It is not yet clear how much money will flow to the City but the municipality took it more than $30 million during the time the slots were previously operating at Hiawatha.

The previous decision to end slots at racetracks negatively impacted the horse racing industry, something Bailey said the new Progressive Conservative government was determined to correct.

“(They) didn’t really think it was important, but I know how important it was,” Bailey said, adding that he was “just tickled to death for Sarnia-Lambton and for Hiawatha.”

Henderson, who has owned the track since 1990, noted that Hiawatha had 450 slot machines when the program was cancelled, although he kept the racing going after the slots left. He also added a driving range and other features, including go-karts.

It remains to be seen how much business will return to the area around the racetrack, but Bailey is hopeful.

As far as attendance at the race track, recent averages of about 1,000 for live and simulcast horse racing are about half of what they were when the slots were open, according to Henderson.

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